Jenny Baker / Wednesday, December 28, 2022 / Categories: 603 Editor’s Column: The Grind Adriane M. F. Sanders Listen up everyone! I’m speaking directly to you dear students, professors, practitioners, and leaders of all kinds—we have got to get REAL, about our values, our boundaries, and what is humanly possible. Perhaps my column this quarter is most relevant to the midcareer folks. However, take heed my grad student and early-career readers because the hustle that you all feel—and think “it’s just for now,” “it’s just until I get the job… that next promotion… that tenure”—is the same hustle that many of us seasoned professionals are still struggling with now. Many of us intended these superhuman sprints of productivity and “yes” mentality to be short-term strategies to help us succeed, and yet we created entrenched habits that, after repeated dopamine-surging intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, turned into our default level and method of producing that is very hard to untangle even with the vantage point of years of perspective. Well that got dark quick. What am I on about this time? It seems that much of the world is gripped by concepts of burnout, boundaries, job-role and extra-role expectations (both the actual expectations and the unrealistic ones we dutifully crafted in our heads), overwork, and quitting—be it quiet or loud. Speaking from my own experiences and those of my friends, so many of us feel that our work and/or industries are rife with inadequate balance, boundaries, and role clarity, and operating from a culture of overwork, often perpetuated by even the most well-meaning peers and supervisors. In my recurring therapy sessions (yay mental health!), I inevitably bring up stress, anxiety, and burnout in the same breath as loving what I do and being fairly successful (across domains), and still feeling like it’s not enough. Lately, she has put me on the spot to give her a name. Who is the role model? Who in your life has shown you that it is possible to have all the answers, while juggling infinite projects, while never losing their patience with their child(ren), while never missing deadlines, while writing manuscripts every day, while engaging students in life-changing ways, while not having a mountain of laundry hidden in all the closets, while maintaining optimal daily hydration levels? Ya know, when she says it like this, it sounds pretty absurd. I mean sure, when I’m intentionally thinking about it in this way, I don’t think this is humanly possible, nor do I truly think it is even my definition of success (as in, what I am or should be aspiring to). But then I get caught up in the daily grind and it’s not until I’m about to have a “menty b”* that I realize this is the nexus of my struggle—unrealistic goals of success × unrealistic expectations that if I just work hard enough and fast enough I will achieve those goals. (I love being able to provide job security for my therapist!) So. How did I (and maybe you) craft this definition of success? For many of us, it started in graduate school. We likely had at least a few mentors and/or professors who seemed successful in teaching, research, service, and advising/milestone directing, with many of them also conducting consulting work on the side. We had no idea if all that felt like success to our professors or what sacrifices were being made to achieve it. Our grad school mentors, much like our organizational leaders, may just be less inclined to share with mentees or direct reports the moments in which they questioned themselves or struggled. It is understandably a sore subject. It’s also easy to understand that some of us may feel that to share such experiences may diminish our professionalism and credibility in our positions or professional relationships. So rather than showing the cracks, we enter the workforce—as practitioners and/or academics—with faulty, unrealistic ideas of how one succeeds. We give all the things 100% (which is both a human and mathematical impossibility). And so, like good little proteges, we continue the cycle and play our part in this culture of harder, better, faster, stronger (Bangalter et al., 2001). As a society, our expectations have completely outpaced our own human capabilities. (Is anyone doing RLP research [realistic life preview]??) I also submit that these experiences are compounded by highly desirable job attitudes and outcomes such as engagement, global job satisfaction, identity or value alignment, meaningfulness, and passion. As Hackman and Oldham (1976) taught us, when job characteristics are such that people generally find meaning, enjoyment, and investment in their work, we have the potential for a highly motivated individual. Sprinkle in a little conscientiousness and achievement orientation, with a dash of people pleasing and a pinch of competitiveness (for spice!), and you’ve got someone well-positioned for early–mid career burnout, and they likely never saw it coming until they had already started suffering. Now might be a good time to acknowledge that I understand this is not everyone’s experience. Surely some of us had or have some role model of creating realistic and balanced goals, who models strong sustainable boundaries that protect from overwork as much as they protect from boredom. Or maybe you’ve figured out your own recipe for your preferences. I am happy for you and quite jealous. I also realize lots of you may not feel this constant internal tug of war between desired and actual states, this compulsion to be “shoulding” and “oughting” all over ourselves. I guess my point in all of this is to share my own struggles with grind culture as someone who is not new to the gig. That I have been at this for what feels like long enough to have cracked my own code, only I haven’t and am desperately trying (yet another effort worthy of 100%). Maybe you’re in the same uncomfortable spot. I’ve been attempting to punch holes in the myth that anyone “has it all together” with my own grad students (many of whom are already working in the field). I guess I’ll never really know what they say among themselves, but many have gone out of their way to share with me that they have been relieved and, to my surprise, reassured by breaking down the facade. I think it has strengthened my relationship with many students, or at the very least helped demonstrate that I am a three-dimensional person. Me sharing my totally typical human experience also makes space for them to do the same, and in this way, we potentially start a different cycle than the one described earlier. Maybe sharing this here, in a much larger public outlet, is a very small step towards empowering others to break the cycle of silent suffering and comparisons to a superhuman way of life. If you’ve made it to this point, please know that it is the end of the fall semester as I write this. Emotions and exhaustion are running high, and I am knee-deep in tying up loose ends, trading my regular over-achieving anxiety for seasonal/holiday-induced anxiety (totally stole that phrase from a friend). But you’re hopefully reading this feeling utterly renewed by a fresh, crisp January. I hope I’m feeling it by then too. We’ve got another great issue, with our first article on quiet quitting (I’m betting it won’t be our last), an insightful ICYMI-type article on Sackett et al.’s explosive 2022 JAP work that is shaking up our field, multiple updates on year-long endeavors (be sure to check out the President’s column for exciting progress on a partnership with its origin in 2015), an introduction to a fun and brand new column, and the latest from your favorite columnists and award winners. Cheers to you and your positively human goals of 2023! Note *menty b is slang for a mental breakdown. References Bangalter, T., Birdsong, E., & de Homem-Christo, G-M. (2001). Harder, better, faster, stronger. [Recorded by Daft Punk]. On Discovery. Virgin Records. Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16(2), 250-279. https://doi.org/10.1016/0030-5073(76)90016-7 Print 304 Rate this article: 4.7 Comments are only visible to subscribers.